Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Williams speaks in tongues over MUN

This is just a goddamn weird story. I mean, not Premier Williams casual dismissive arrogance on the issue. When I first read John Crosbie’s defence of the unity of Memorial University of Newfoundland I thought he raised some good points, but also thought it was only a matter of time before Williams ripped him.

And it’s honestly easy to rip Crosbie these days. Yes, in his prime he was a cunning and intelligent politician. But he’s not in his prime anymore. And for every time he makes really good points as he does here, he’s prone to saying really stupid things. Ed has catalogued more than a few of them this year alone.

Still, I thought his dismissal of Crosbie was a touch on the cold and arrogant side.

But there was the fact that he completely dismissed any of the very well reasoned arguments against dividing MUN and Grenfell.

There was this quote:

"Obviously, the higher-ups - (MUN president Axel) Meisen and Mr. Crosbie - have a different opinion, but they're not the government," the premier said.

Followed by this gem:

“…to put a rural Newfoundland and Labrador emphasis on education and higher education in this province."

The first quote is just the usual arrogance...we know everything, we are wiser than all of you, even those poncy academics at MUN. The second is just nonsensical. I have absolute no idea what it means. Anyone? I mean, I like to think I’m a fairly smart person, but I have no clue what that quote means and how splitting Grenfell from MUN will accomplish whatever the hell Williams is talking about here.

But the really disappointing this is that the story is really quite lightweight. I have a hell of a lot of respect for Rob Antle. I think he’s one of the best reporters in the province and he’s certainly not afraid of getting up in a person’s face or asking hard questions. But there was no detail in this story. Why did the government ignore the recommendations of the White Paper? Why did the government drop this without consulting more with MUN? Does the premier respect MUN’s president and the Board of Regents (given some of his statements, it’s a fair question)? What about the concerns for proper funding for a divided MUN? Will this impact the resources that students have available to them on both campuses? Will this lead to a tuition increase? Will this impact the ability of MUN to recruit students from outside the province, something that has been emphasized a lot in recently years? Isn’t this a waste of money, duplicating management for MUN and Grenfell? How will this impact fundraising?

And those are just questions off the top of my head. I’m sure a reporter as good as Rob can think of many others.

I actually wondered if the Premier’s quotes were taken from a press release, but I couldn’t find one. It’s just such an odd story from Rob, who normally does such good work. I wonder why there isn't more detail?

I have faith that The Muse will probably do the best work on this story come the fall. There’s a lot of meat for a good reporter to dig into here. A nice one-on-one with either the Minister of Education or the Premier (Sheena, don’t let them do it over the phone. Make sure you go to Confederation Building and get them in person) to try and find a rational reason for this move.

Sheena was right when she commented in my earlier post – it’s likely with all the politicking going on, and with an election coming up, it’s the students who will suffer the most. Of course, trying to get students to actually care about this decision and its impacts will be something else entirely.

Then again, perhaps a “rural Newfoundland and Labrador emphasis on education and higher education in this province” will be just the thing they need. Whatever the hell that means.


Sheena said...

I also think Williams' reaction poses a frightening threat to the university's academic autonomy. The Board is the highest governing body at MUN, yet Williams dismisses them and their opinions as meaningless, because they "aren't the government."

The board is a hell of a lot closer to this issue than the government is. Maybe the government should get off it's pedestal and listen to what the board has to say.

Meisen says this split needs to be looked at more closely before it can really be considered. The details about how this will impact finances, credit transfers, and the library need to be worked out. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Crosbie says one board governing two senates is not workable. Think about this. The board is meant to govern, not mediate between opposing forces fighting for the same resources.

I'm not taking a side on the debate between one or two universities. But I will definitely say that government is stepping outside it's authority by pushing the Board around, which should leave people on both sides of the debate feeling threatened.

Dale Kirby said...

If there is a valid reason for creating a second university, it has not been communicated publicly at this point.

No doubt, Crosbie is correct to suggest that the government's position runs contrary to the institutional autonomy that is granted to MUN under the Memorial University Act.

If the government wants another university (or 10 more), it can exercise its authority under the Degree Granting Act to legislate another university into existence. However, including SWGC in that would be questionable since, I assume, SWGC’s assets are "owned" by MUN.

Anonymous said...

You talk about government interference, but the Board of Regents have been appointed by Government since MUN's inception.